All too often it seems that winning is the most important thing in youth team competitions. This includes all forms of competitive team sports (soccer, basketball, baseball, etc.) and non-athletic team competitions (such as "Odyssey of the Mind"). However, winning is not what team competitions, especially among children and young people, are really about. They're about personal growth and building character. Competitions are just the setting for learning and character formation to occur.
Youth team competitions are really about:
1. Teamwork, working together as a team and productively working towards a common goal. Allowing each person's strengths to contribute to the success of the whole team. For, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
2. Having a positive mental attitude and outlook. Believing in yourself, your abilities, and your team. Having constant, yet humble, self-confidence and team-confidence.
3. Striving to develop your God-given talents to the fullest, even if you are not the team "star." For, true success is how far you go with how much you've been given. What you are is God's gift to you. What you achieve is your gift to God. Be all you can be!
4. Developing leadership skills, including the ability to encourage and motivate each other to do better than we ever thought possible. Bring out the best in each person. Lavish praise when well done. Catch others doing things right.
5. Trying to perform and do our best, even under pressure. Life is full of pressure and stress. Competition develops our ability to constructively handle pressure, to keep our cool.
6. Always trying to do one's best, even in the face of adversity and hardship. Challenges can be stepping stones or stumbling blocks. It's just a matter of how we view them.
7. Learning patience, persistence, and stamina. It's about hanging in there and never giving up. For when the going gets tough, the tough get going!
8. Valuing and appreciating hard work. Practice makes perfect. Without the self-discipline and determination to diligently practice, and practice hard, doing our best is simply impossible.
9. Wining and losing gracefully. In every competition, as in life, there are times when we succeed and there are times when we do not. Learn to graciously accept both. If we succeed, we should not gloat in our victory or become proud. If we do not, we should not become overly sad or depressed. The only failure is one we don't learn from. What matters is not how far you fall, but how high you bounce.
10. Sticking together, even in times of difficulty and sadness, without losing hope or becoming bitter. Learning not to blame yourself or others, especially if everyone tried their best.
11. Having fun, even when things do not always work out as hoped. It's about being able to "pick up the pieces" and get on with enjoying each other and our special time together.
12. Being a friend and making friends. Sharing, struggling, and having fun together.
13. Trusting in our teammates, in ourselves, and in God and His help in meeting the challenges. The most valuable lesson we can learn is that in life we should just to do our best, and then trust in God for the rest!
Yes, winning is not the most important thing in youth competitions. In fact, it really doesn't matter in the long run who had the highest score. What does matter, and will benefit each participant throughout their entire life, is the personal growth and character development obtained through competitive youth team experiences. And, because you have grown and learned so much, that makes you the big winner - whatever the final score!